When I travel, whether for a day or two or a week or two, there’s this thing I am compelled to do when I get back: I organize all the newspapers in order from oldest to newest, and I read them all. If I can’t/don’t do this, I worry that I am not caught up and that I will have missed something. And so I save them until I have time.
And it’s not just newspapers…anyone who’s on Facebook or Twitter, or who reads blogs on a regular basis, can probably relate. These days, with a laptop and a smartphone, I can try and keep up while I am away, but it’s not genuine, quality “keeping up” – it’s distracted and slightly desperate, and comes out of the fear of becoming irrelevant.
Upon my return from Arizona and the subsequent rush to handle my grandmother’s affairs , I felt not-caught-up-and-missing-something.
And it wasn’t until I was going through the piles and piles of paper that grandmother has managed to amass over the past however many years that I realized that I might be looking into my own future.
In today’s parlance, she’s a paper hoarder. Her dining room table is covered with stacks of papers – bills, catalogs, newsletters, notes she has written, statements, magazines, solicitations – going back YEARS. And myriad miscellaneous items like batteries, empty pill bottles, and broken hair brushes.
Each and every item has a date and sometimes a note, indicating what action my grandmother thinks she needs to take, even “no, I don’t want this any more.” Then there are the many plastic grocery sacks, full of papers and tied carefully, on the floor.
Whenever I or anyone else would suggest helping her get rid of those papers, she would respond that she needed to go through them and that she was the only one who could do it. I recognized a long time ago that this was her way of being in control, of being valuable, of having relevance…at her age, and in her condition, there isn’t much left.
She stopped driving a couple of years ago, she rarely left her home…in fact, in the past six or so months, she refused to go anywhere except to the eye doctor. Slowly, over the years, she became somewhat of a recluse, preferring to be alone. Again, I can see the seeds of that same behavior in how I am now.
I think the key here is relevance. How do we feel relevant? Is it a matter of being caught up and not missing anything, of making sure we’re heard and that we’ve responded to all the demands on our attention, whether it’s the blogosphere or the junk mail piling up on the table?
And if we can’t or don’t feel relevant, do we numb ourselves with food, booze, pills…and/or stuff?
I am starting to understand how one goes from here to there in the course of a lifetime.